In many ways, an individual’s college experience can provide the foundation for early career success. Unfortunately, the upcoming semester will be compromised in important ways due to the impact of Coronavirus. Plans and dates are continuously shifting and vary by school. These include plans to operate remotely, in person, and a number of hybrid options, some of which involve limited access to campus. And of course, in the current climate all plans are tenuous and subject to change at any time, including at the last minute.

This fall, aspiring careerists need to adapt to build the career foundation and skill-building they need. Here are steps college students can take to effectively work towards launching their careers in a semester (or year) impacted by COVID.

1. Passiveness Is Past: Be Proactive

In the old-normal, avenues for career development were built into the fabric of college life for students who made the most of opportunities. As a result, many college students took a more passive approach to career-building while in school. This year, students need to be proactive to achieve desired career outcomes.

Be Friendly with Faculty – Your professors and advisors can provide access to key resources. Create a strategy to get to know professors – they can be valuable resources, look at their body of work and show up to class informed about their area of focus and the problems they are trying to solve. Dig deep, ask questions, and attend virtual or in-person office hours (if these will happen) – see if they have any suggestions for non-academic programs that can provide valuable industry experience. You should also meet virtually with your advisor to make sure your course load is positioning you for more advanced work or research. It’s important to prioritize these connections – in addition to learning from their wealth of knowledge, you’ll build valuable relationships.

Don’t Wait For an Invite – Try to find a directory of clubs on campus, and identify any that pique your interest – if your school isn’t having an activities fair, consider e-mailing the heads of clubs to see if there’s some way you can contribute remotely. This way, you can build relationships with others who are involved, and be positioned to seamlessly contribute more when circumstances allow. Use this opportunity to differentiate yourself and build a potential leadership path; many other students may not put in the effort to do this.

2. The New Normal: Adjusting and Overcoming Obstacles

Unfortunately, today’s college students do not have the luxury to look to their predecessors when encountering the obstacles presented by this year. “How was this done in the past” must shift to “how am I going to get the outcome previous students did” – whether in academic, social, extracurricular or career areas.

Here are ways you can be forward thinking in a campus-less world and continue to build momentum towards launching your career.

Actively Network – You won’t have the luxury of dorm life or a fraternity/sorority to make connections and build your network. To kick start finding a future role, concentrate on networking and talking about people’s individual experiences this past, odd, summer. Stay involved in social media and other digital avenues for connection provided by your college community, including alumni.

Engage Your Interests – On-campus clubs might not be running, but you can form personal projects to pursue your interests. Start a podcast on your favorite sports team, form a Zoom creative writing workshop with friends, or develop a fashion blog. Whatever interests you – find a way to engage that will help you build new skills and experiences. These, in turn, can be parlayed into micro-internships or future work opportunities.

Be a Contributor - Are there alumni groups you could help with projects or future recruitment outreach? Think both big and small– you may have more success approaching alumni for specific groups (e.g. yearbook or newspaper staff). Consider engaging with your summer camp, or a group who sponsored a scholarship that you won.

3. Stay Future Focused

When COVID is in the rear-view mirror, it will be vital to have taken the right steps now to set you up for success. You should always be planning for the next set of career opportunities – college internships can have a major impact on career launch.

Hard, Soft, and Complementary Skills –Take online certificate or academic courses to develop and demonstrate your mastery of key skills. For many jobs and careers, you’ll need foundational tech skills like using Excel – and familiarizing yourself with commonly used programs like Slack or Trello can give you an edge in a virtual work environment.

It’s also important to think about what new skills will complement your current skill set. If you are strong at data science, consider developing your range of presentation, visualization and delivery skills to present your findings. If you have a strong command of history and politics, consider taking a storytelling or public speaking course. Remember, the skills you build now will position you for opportunities that arise down the road, whether that is during January term, spring break, or even next summer and post-college.

Learning and Leading – If you are involved with a campus organization, demonstrate your leadership by thinking proactively about the new challenges you will face recruiting new members, onboarding, and training them. Think about how succession planning for your organization will be impacted. If you are stuck off-campus, look to your community for chapter opportunities national/global organizations (like United Way, or the American Red Cross Association) might allow you to get involved at home or locally, and stay involved when you return to school.

Consider Career Options – If you are unsure of what you want to do once you graduate, try to develop some clarity in this regard. You’ll want to weigh the impact that Coronavirus has had on the job-market and what industries look strong. Consider a career assessment to develop a sense of what jobs might be suited to your working style, behaviors, skills, and interests.

The college students of 2020 are facing unparalleled challenges, and the ramifications of COVID-19 will absolutely disrupt the existing college-to-career path. For college students, it’s vital to proactively think about how your experience will be altered, and to make adjustments and take steps to make sure you are well-positioned to develop the skills and experience you will need to ultimately launch your career. And if you need guidance navigating today’s unique career challenges, consider reaching out to Priority Candidates.